Legal Market Overview
In spite of the difficulties caused by the ongoing pandemic, members of the independent Bar in Hong Kong continue to act in complex and frequently high-profile cases before the jurisdiction’s courts as a natural consequence of the city’s role as a key gateway between mainland China and the outside world, as well as a significant market in its own right. The sets report an uptick in international arbitration cases, often involving mainland Chinese entities, as well as an increase in regulatory investigations and insolvency-related work.
Generally Hong Kong barristers negotiate their own fees, and are supported by secretaries rather than having an English or Scottish-style system of clerking. The Hong Kong Bar is undergoing somewhat of a generational shift, with the careers of many of the most senior expatriates having coming to an end over the past few years or reaching a crescendo now, with locally-educated new counsel capable of providing high-quality advocacy in English, Cantonese and Putonghua and featuring illustrious CVs that would not look out of place either at the most prestigious commercial sets in London or an American white-shoe firm.
The appointment of senior counsel follows the mould of the appointment of English QCs prior to changes in the 00s, albeit with fewer appointments reflecting the smaller size of the Bar; 2021 saw Law Man-Chung SC of Temple Chambers and Norman Nip SC of Sir Oswald Cheung’s Chambers appointed to silk, along with criminal specialists Phil Chau SC of Central Chambers and deputy director of public prosecutions Vinci Lam SC.
Temple Chambers and Des Voeux Chambers may be easy to identify as leading sets, but it would not be fair to describe them as a duopoly; Sir Oswald Cheung’s Chambers, Andrew Liao SC’s Chambers and Denis Chang’s Chambers are all notable sets and particularly strong in certain areas.
For the avoidance of doubt, this guide only considers those with full, permanent admission to the Hong Kong Bar and are full members of Hong Kong sets, although a small number are door tenants or dual tenants of London sets. Temporary admission of English counsel is still possible in the most exceptional cases, however on top of previous questions in the wake of the National Security Law, Hong Kong’s strict border measures, continuing with a “Zero Covid” policy similar to that of Mainland China rather than attempting to open up like other international financial centres, have posed very significant practical challenges for this, as anyone fully admitted to both Bars (noting even the most experienced English silk would be required to carry out Hong Kong pupillage, rather than being primarily a paper exercise like to appear in certain jurisdictions).